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  • Tonga-anemone-nemo.jpg - Snorkel the blue bays of Tonga and see brilliant tropical fish, including clownfish.
  • Tonga-whale.jpg - The months of July through September bring humpback whales back to Tonga.
  • Tonga-stone-lintel.jpg - Haʿamonga ʿa Maui was built at the beginning of the 13th century, most likely as a gateway to the royal compound Heketā.
  • Tonga-kayak-pair.jpg - Kayak the tranquil bays of Tonga on your next cruise to the South Pacific.
  • Tonga-island-shallows.jpg - Explore the pristine, uncrowded islands of Tonga on your next cruise to the South Pacific.
  • Tonga-beach.jpg - Stroll the lush beaches of Tonga.
  • Tonga-woodcarver.jpg - Visit the studio of a Tongan woodcarver on your next cruise.
  • Tonga-island-approach.jpg - Book an excursion that allows you to explore the small out islands of Tonga.
  • Tonga-flowers.jpg - Stop to smell the tropical flowers of Tonga on your next cruise to the South Pacific.
  • Tonga-girl-closeup.jpg - A young girl is dressed up for church in Tonga.
  • Tonga-island-clouds.jpg - Light clouds over a Tongan island offer relief from the strong tropical sun.
  • Tonga-island-jungle.jpg - The small islands of the Kingdom of Tonga offer beautiful beaches and dense foliage.
  • Tonga-fishing-trip.jpg - Book a deep sea fishing excursion on your cruise to Tonga.
  • Tonga-snorkel-pair.jpg - Enjoy a leisurely snorkel in the crystal clear waters of Tonga.
  • Tonga-girls-red-umbrella.jpg - A brief downpour doesn't dampen the spirits of these girls in Tonga.
  • Tonga-beach-kayak.jpg - Kayak right from the beaches of Tonga.
  • Tonga-Vavau-Mango-Cafe.jpg - Visit the Mango Cafe in Vavaʿu, Tonga, for an afternoon refreshment.
  • Tonga-whale-breach.jpg - The bays of Tonga are home to humpback whales from July to September.
  • Tonga-bar-dock.jpg - Have a cold drink at one of the local cafes on Tonga between kayak outings.
  • Tonga-woman.jpg - Chat up a local resident and try some fresh coconut, freshly scraped from the shell.
  • Tonga-whale-snorkel.jpg - In summer months you can arrange to swim with the whales in Tonga.
  • Tonga-basket-shop.jpg - Tonga is known for quality baskets woven locally.
  • Tonga-bay-beach.jpg - Cool down in the refreshing waters of Tonga.
  • Tonga-beach-huts.jpg - Explore smaller islands that make up the Kingdom of Tonga.
  • Tonga-boat.jpg - Book an excursion in Tonga that lets you explore small bays and beautiful beaches.
  • Tonga-carving.jpg - Bone carvings in Tonga reflect life on the seas.
  • Tonga-coral.jpg - A giant brain coral in a reef in Tonga.
  • Tonga-fish-closeup.jpg - Scuba or snorkel to see brilliantly colored fish in the tropical blue waters of Tonga in the South Pacific.
  • Tonga-Friends-Cafe.jpg - Visit the Friends Cafe on your trip to Nuku'alofa, Tonga.
  • Tonga-guitarists.jpg - Music lovers of all ages will enjoy the guitarists of Tonga.
  • Tonga-island-retreat.jpg - Relax on Tonga in huts that blend with the jungle terrain.
  • Tonga-kids.jpg - Dressed up in their Sunday best, these children are headed for Sunday services in Tonga.
  • Tonga-marina.jpg - The port and marina on Vavaʿu Island in Tonga.
  • Tonga-reef-fish.jpg - Dive the reefs of Tonga to view colorful schools of tropical fish.
  • Tonga-shop-plates.jpg - Wander the shops in Tonga to find mementos of your cruise.
  • Tonga-snorkel.jpg - Snorkel in the warm waters of Tonga.

Tonga: Secluded tropical hideaway in the South Pacific

our guide

The vibe

From steep, active volcanoes to low coral atolls, Tonga's 176 islands offer a wealth of backdrops. The "Friendly Islands" archipelago of Tonga in the South Pacific is imbued with an unspoiled beauty and laid-back vibe that travelers find alluring, whether relaxing on its white sandy beaches, snorkeling or diving in its gorgeous coral reefs, hiking through tropical rainforests or watching migratory whales return to their breeding grounds every June to November. 

Tonga is divided into four main island groupings, but we'll focus on the main island, Tongatapu, protected by lagoons and limestone cliffs. It’s home to the rural capital of Nuku'alofa (population 107,000) as well as beach resorts, plantations and the Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, a monumental stone gate from the 1200s near the village of Niutōua, in Heketā.

Writes Lonely Planet:

    Kiss the tourist hype goodbye – and say a warm "Malo e lelei" (hello!) to the Kingdom of Tonga. Resolutely sidestepping flashy resorts and packaged cruise-ship schtick, Tonga is unpolished, gritty and unfailingly authentic. Life here ticks along at its own informal pace: church-life is all pervasive, chickens and pigs have right-of-way, and there's nothing that can't wait until tomorrow. You don’t have to seek out a cultural experience in Tonga – it’s all around you!
    Once you've shifted down into 'Tonga time,' you'll find these islands awash with gorgeous beaches, low-key resorts, myriad snorkeling, diving, yachting and kayaking opportunities, hiking trails, rugged coastlines and affable locals (especially the kids!).

Cruise ships that call on Tonga

Top reasons to go

  • Tonga's stunning coral reefs
  • Anahulu Cave, a network of large limestone caverns with fresh water to swim in

Top things to do & see

On Tongatapu you'll find lots of interesting attractions, including ancient tombs, coastal blowholes and several beaches suitable for snorkeling. Most activities here reflect the nation's island culture, centering on diving, fishing, boat trips, kayaking and even kite surfing

Sightseeing highlights include the Royal Palace along the waterfront in the capital of Nuku'alofa, the Mala'ekula (Royal Tombs) and the Anahulu Cave, an underground cavern of stalactites and stalagmites. If you want a quick cultural hit, watch tapa cloth being made from mulberry bark and try a drink of kava, the traditional drink, which may give you a mild buzz. Like adventure? Try a self-drive kart safari on a four-wheel ATV and explore a rainforest on remote back road trails and along oceanside clifftops.

Dining

Take advantage of a Tongan feast if you can. Tour companies and hotels organize feasts, together with traditional dancing, on several nights of the week on Tongatapu.

Of note

  • The Centers for Disease Control has identified Tonga as an affected area of the Zika outbreak. Pregnant women are advised to be cautious as the virus can lead to birth defects. 
  • Tonga is a very conservative Christian nation. Over 90 percent of the population belongs to a Christian denomination or sect. In keeping with its conservative culture, male homosexuality is illegal.

Best time to go 

June to October is the peak season with stable weather, warm seas and waterside restaurants in full swing. 

November to March sees Tonga's warmer, rainy season, which is summertime in the South Seas. It's optimal for water sports.

April to August (wintertime) sees cool, dry and less humid weather. You'll see plenty of yachties. 

Fun facts

  • The ruling family of Tonga, the last remaining Polynesian kingdom, can be traced back more than 1,000 years.
  • Capt. James Cook dubbed the Kingdom of Tonga the “Friendly Islands” more than two centuries ago. 

When you arrive

Docking information

On the island of Tongatapu, cruise ships dock close to the city of Nuku'Alofa at the newly reconstructed Vuna Wharf.

Getting around

Taxis are readily available. To get around the main island of Tongatapu, Teta Tours and Toni's guest house offer day tours of all the main tourist sights.

Need to know

Documents: A valid passport is required for U.S. and Canadian citizens.

Language: The official languages of Tonga are Tongan and English.

Tipping: Tipping is typically not expected in Tonga. However, if you are satisfied with the service provided by a waiter, driver or guide, it doesn't hurt to leave a small tip.

Currency: The national currency is the pa'anga, or Tongan dollar. 

Safety: Tonga has a low crime rate but do take the usual precautions. Petty crime such as property theft does occur.

Your take

Have you visited Tonga? What was the highlight for you? Have any tips for newcomers? Would love to see your photos and hear about your experience.

Help improve this article! See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

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